White Knights: Bondholders commit extra funds to NTCH

By Bob Buckel and Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, March 9, 2013

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Bondholders stepped up Friday and committed to providing funds to ensure North Texas Community Hospital in Bridgeport will remain open.

The purchase of the hospital by Wise Regional Health System in Decatur is pending, but NTCH didn’t have enough operating funds to remain open until the transition later this month.

Wise Regional CEO Steve Summers said he learned Friday bondholders were going to provide the money needed by NTCH.

“There are at least four institutional investors (among the bondholders) who were able to figure out how to make that work within the structure we had,” he said.

As approved by the federal court, Wise Regional’s bid called for a purchase price of $20 million, with $1 million of that in the form of a “debtor-in-possession” loan and the other $19 to go to the holders of the hospital’s nearly $60 million in bonds.

Summers said the structure of the bid will remain exactly the same, and this money is separate from the bid.

On Feb. 25, NTCH CEO Max Ludeke and board chairman Jimmy Horner came to a Wise Regional board meeting to ask that the purchase be restructured to provide another $1.5 million in operating funds. The matter was not on the board’s agenda, and they were not able to act on it – but they did contact the counsel for the bondholders to see about the proposed solution.

Summers acknowledged that the situation put NTCH in an “unknown position” for more than a week, but “the arrangement has been finalized and with these funds they’ll be able to remain open until the closing.”

Summers said he doesn’t know when the funds will be available, but he assumed “pretty quick” considering the circumstances. The tentative closing date is March 26.

“They said they would find a way, and they did,” he said. “They found a way to get the money and are getting ready to pass it on.”

Meanwhile, staff at Wise Regional and North Texas Community Hospital continue to work toward integration of the two facilities.

NTCH held a “farewell” party Sunday to honor staff members for their loyalty throughout the hospital’s operation. Although the event had been planned for some time, it still sparked rumors that the hospital was closing. Some confusion may stem from use of the word “closing” in reference to finalizing the real estate transaction and transferring the title to Wise Regional.

Summers said both sides are eager to get to that point as quickly as possible.

When the ownership officially changes, he said the plan is to initially move all the patients to Decatur while some work is done on the Bridgeport hospital.

“We fully intend for that to be a full-service facility,” he said. “But once we take ownership, for the time being, there’s going to be no ICU, no obstetrics – nothing where we have to have any ‘on call’ staff.

“By licensure we’re required to keep the ER open and have beds available, but our intention would be to transfer the patients to our hospital in Decatur as quickly as we can, and keep the floors as patient-free as possible for at least two weeks.

“There has to be a transition period, a time of minimal services,” he added. “There’s more to deal with than we anticipated, and it’s going to cost a little more money and take a little more time than we thought going in – but we’re content to do that, to get it in top-notch shape.”

Staff orientation, the conversion to electronic records and other matters are already well under way.

One issue that’s being dealt with is doctor credentialing – the request by several physicians for staff privileges at the unified facilities.

Several Family Practice physicians at NTCH also handle obstetrical care – delivering babies. That procedure at Wise Regional is currently reserved for doctors who specialize in obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) and no current staff physicians who are not OB/GYN specialists are allowed to do deliveries.

It is one of the issues that brought about the establishment of NTCH a decade ago.

Although there have been extensive meetings of the medical staff’s Ethics and Credentialing committee, any recommendation would have to be approved by the board, which does not meet again until March 25.

“There are discussions going on to try and come up with a solution that meets everybody’s needs,” Summers said. “They’re working toward that.”

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